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Servin' up home cooking

3/22/2014

By MATTHEW KENWRIGHT

mkenwright@dailynews.net

WaKEENEY -- While most families only pass down money or property, others inherit a legacy of feeding hungry people.

Chet Blender, co-owner of Jake and Chet's Cafe in WaKeeney, said his Wheatcroft ancestors served travelers on the Western cattle trail as far back as the 1860s.

His mom and grandmother waited tables, and his dad was a cook.

The restaurant, located at 233 S. First, serves home-cooked style meals. The menu reflects the local appetite, and breakfast is available all day.

"WaKeeney's a small place," Blender said. "You can try something new, but they're going to want the same old thing."

Blender cooked for 20 years at the Real Country Cafe at the Inn, also known as the "truck stop," until it closed in September. The cafe's previous occupant vacated the restaurant, and Blender saw an opportunity to launch a new venture with Jason Hafliger.

The two men want a family atmosphere for the cafe. There are plans to turn a lounge in the building's rear into a bar.

The restaurant is a chance to contribute back to his roots.

"I was born and raised here," Blender said. "I'd kind of like to give something back to it."

Hafliger, a co-owner who worked with Chet at the Real Country Cafe, said the "Jake" in the cafe's name was his high school nickname.

"People are really excited about having a place to come and eat," Hafliger said. "The big thing was breakfast. The only place you get breakfast was McDonald's here."

Praise from customers helps him enjoy his job.

"I kind of get a satisfaction of like you cook something good and people go, "Wow that was really good food,' " he said.

Jim Cleland, a frequent diner, said the restaurant serves genuine "soul food."

"All the chains, they think they know what you really like," Cleland said. "But if you're from western Kansas, you were raised on mashed potatoes, gravy, fried chicken, chicken-fried steaks, homemade rolls and really good homemade soup."

The diner takes more care with its meals than other places.

"What I really like about this restaurant ... your mashed potatoes are hot all the way to the core," he said. "It hasn't been sitting under a warming lamp. They keep their food hot like it ought to be."

Jake and Chet's Cafe is open every day from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.